CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is OneLetterWords.com.
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The Right Word

Today — July 1, 2016 (permalink)

From The War Cry, 1920.

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June 20, 2016 (permalink)

"And if not -- why not?  Or words to that effect; Verbum sat!"  From an ad for the Arlington Drug Company, c. 1880.

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June 12, 2016 (permalink)

Here's "23 skidoo" being used very theatrically, in 1907.  But is this phrase the product of a poverty-stricken mind?  "The deadly thing about slang," as we learn in The Country Gentleman, "is this: A phrase, for instance, 'I should worry,' or a single word like 'skidoo,' is made to stand for a whole class of ideas, each idea finely discriminated from every other idea in the same general class.  But 'skidoo' does universal service in its class where a clear thinker would use, according to the shade of meaning, retreat, retire, depart, decamp, disappear, vanish, scamper, leave, escape, flee, or a long list of phrases.  The poverty-stricken mind in a blurred sort of way falls back on 'skidoo,' and when that word is worn to the very bone someone invents a new word or phrase like 'beat it,' and then the changes are rung on that ad nauseam.  Slang paralyzes fine thought disciminations, and, of course, a person who is doing no sharp, clear thinking is not looking for standard words to express exact shades of meaning.  Poverty-stricken in ideas, the slang user is soon bankrupt in the gift of expression" ("Slang—and Its Remedy," 1916).


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June 11, 2016 (permalink)

Just because.  From St. Nicholas magazine, 1902.

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June 10, 2016 (permalink)

Here's an alternative to "I do": "I forgot my condiment can."  From the "C" Battery Book, 306th F. A., 77th Div., 1917-1919.

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June 6, 2016 (permalink)

Here's some Model T-era maledicta.

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June 3, 2016 (permalink)

"Oh pickles!"  From 1907.

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May 30, 2016 (permalink)

"Uneedn't" is a rare word, but it's the name of a song by DJ G.K. Apsis.

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May 25, 2016 (permalink)

"Dancey's [to this very day] a fairy word for gay."  Date uncertain.  Scan courtesy of Aimée Wheaton.

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May 23, 2016 (permalink)

Here's a mollycoddle from 1909.

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May 20, 2016 (permalink)

"I refuse to believe the names of all things begin with one of those twenty-six letters.  It is a mystical, outdated idea."
—William Keckler
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May 19, 2016 (permalink)

Back in 2007, we were asked to collect and define ten magic words for Cabinet magazine's issue on magic.  If you missed that issue, you can see the words here:

http://cabinetmagazine.org/issues/26/conley.php

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May 16, 2016 (permalink)


Hatbox Ghost photo by Anna Fox.

Illusions and Allusions:
Why the "Happy Haunts" Vocalize at Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

Before X. Atencio wrote the lyrics about "happy haunts" that "materialize and begin to vocalize," a happy haunt was customarily a frequented place, not a ghost.  For example, "She loved to saunter through the happy haunts of childhood" (Amy Le Feuvre, "Not By Chance," The Quiver, 1906).  Atencio wove his magic to transform a locational haunt's empty space into a ghostly sort of material.  There is actually a literary tradition of pairing locational happy haunts with vocalizations.  Such passages may have inspired Atencio's wording when he turned old haunts into old singing haunters.  Five cases in point might suffice:

Our first example, a musical play, might have been in the possession of Disney's Cinderella team as reference/inspiration material.  Morse & Robertson's Cinderella at School: A Musical Paraphrase in Two Acts (1881) features happy haunts alongside merry faces and light voices:

To our happy, happy haunts we go,
With our voices light and free;
And our merry, merry faces show,
That our hearts are ever filled with glee.

Similarly, in Mair Hydref's poem "Tell Me Not My Youth Is Over" (1883) we find "the happy haunts of childhood, / Where I gaily used to sing."

So, too, in The Carse of Stirling, An Elegy (1785): "the happy haunts of love and tranquility naturally lead the poetic mind to celebrate these beauties in song."  

In Frances Sargent Osgood's poem "A Sermon" (1850), happy haunts are mentioned alongside woodland choirs.  Other language in the poem recalls the Haunted Mansion, such as glistening smiles (if not technically grim grins), "wistful music," distorted faces, a "light-painted flower" (recalling fluorescent paints that glow in black light), and "marvellous mystery."

Finally, in Frederic William Louis Butterfield's The Battle of Maldon: And Other Renderings from the Anglo-Saxon (1900), we find happy haunts in conjunction with music, a graveyard, and the grim grinning liminality of gay laughter shifting to a dirge.  (By the way, the reference to the Muses recalls the homage to the Haunted Mansion in Disney's Hercules, in which the Muses appear as singing busts.)

Poetry, Music, Eloquence, 
O let your sorrow speak! 
Let sister Muses weeping come; 
Let all the graveyard seek: 
Of happy haunts since you're deprived, 
No more can blissful Hippocrene, 
No more Castalian spring, 
A rippled laughter gayly trill; 
Instead, a dirge they sing— 
Sad, tearful flow!—and joys of Earth fade 
unrevived.

It was innovative for Atencio to distill a locational haunt into ectoplasm, even as associating haunts with vocalizations kept with time-honored tradition.  Atencio's frame of reference enriched both his allusions and the Mansion's illusions.

[Note: for a great analysis of Atencio's song, see Long-Forgotten's post entitled "When the Spooks Have a Midnight Jamboree."]

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May 13, 2016 (permalink)

"Something about hypnagogic hallucinations" from An Experimental Study of the Eye-Voice Span in Reading by Guy T. Buswell, 1920.

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May 4, 2016 (permalink)

Here's an "aboutcha" in the wild, from 1948.  (For Jonathan Caws-Elwitt.)

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April 28, 2016 (permalink)

This 1906 spelling of choo-choo train, "chw-chw," is a Googlewhack.

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April 23, 2016 (permalink)

"'Time slept on flowers and lent his glass to hope.' —Sigourney."  From A Practical Grammar by Stephen Watkins Clark, 1847.

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March 31, 2016 (permalink)

In the Nippon Television series Death Note (デスノート), we are treated to some Western-style names out of an alternate universe.  (We've retainied the equal signs between the first and last names):
Ryan=Zapwack
Knick=Macburden
Nicholas=Nethernburg
Henneth=Belle
Mark=Dwellton
Beth=Skulmere
Frederick=Marsmore
Gabrielle=Foughman
Thomas=Denorold
Loyd=Jr. Foughman
Arrie=Wheelwood
Ariel=Feithston
Raye=Penber
In the manga version of the story, the names are a bit different: Toors Denote, Haley Belle, Lian Zapack, Arire Weekwood, Ale Funderrem, Freddi Guntair, Knick Staek, Bess Sekllet, Frigde Copen, Girela Sevenster, Raye Penber, and Nikola Nasberg.

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March 30, 2016 (permalink)

"Each word, each glance, each thought is a centaur, or a hand-headed owl, a grammar-horned deer." —the artists' statement for An Encyclopedia of Everything: Paperworks
From Prof. Oddfellow's sketchbook:

"A bird in the hand-headed owl."  For Gary Barwin.
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March 29, 2016 (permalink)


You've heard of the "less is more" philosophy, but in the song about "one less bell to answer, one less egg to fry, one less man to pick up after," less is fewer.
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Original Content Copyright © 2016 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.